1000: I Hear America Singing

20231116 SD

1000: I Hear America Singing


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

We, here, at The Slowdown are celebrating our 1000th episode. This is a milestone deserving of its own reflection. I’ve three observations before we raise our public media coffee mugs or flutes of sparkling cider for a communal toast.

1. One thousand poems are in circulation with opening remarks in what effectively is an audio anthology on our website. For teachers, parents, and lovers of the written word, what an invaluable resource! The commentaries by our hosts and guest hosts make an irrefutable argument about the place of poetry in our lives. We invite you to return to your favorite poets and poems. Or choose a significant date, such as your birthday, and treat yourself to the immense talent we’ve featured on that day over the past five years.

2. Personally, I am swallowed up by so much in my day-to-day life. As a member of a caring community, I also experience the sweep of history and its conflicts which make themselves present everyday. I ponder the struggle to enact laws and policies that uphold our freedom; and I contemplate the reach of global conflicts. In my opinion, nothing dignifies our existence like the poem which, in the midst of that swirl, comes forth as the voice of a human soul, as an individual speaking, testifying, witnessing it all.

When I encounter the poem on the page, I am afforded the profound and intimate pleasure of hearing someone’s inner thoughts. What we try to do on The Slowdown is to preserve that intimacy. Every poem advances our humanity in language. It captures so much more that is intimate and telling. Our better selves are explored, given the stage, rather than our base needs which often sets us in conflict. We’ve a tenderness to us. Poetry allows that softness to come to the fore where we are more reflective, more conciliatory, more in concert with each other.

3. Poets urge me to not look away. To see everything which can be difficult. Thank you for slowing down and seeing with us.

Today’s poem, by an essential American poet, reminds me why this show matters. We want — no, need — to hear and honor the whole expanse of human existence.

I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, 
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.